Will surging demand from China drive up the price of aluminum?

Aluminum-heavy cars, such as the Jaguar XJ, are popular with China's elite.

By Jeff Sanford

Toronto, Ontario — August 11, 2015 — A new report suggests that the current boom in the Chinese auto sector will see much more aluminum used in that country over the years to come.

The report, “Global and Chinese Aluminum Alloy Automotive Sheet Industry Report, 2014-2017” claims that China’s growth in the demand for aluminum alloy automotive sheet will increase 20 percent through 2015 to 2020.
This is a lot of aluminum.

Could repairs for the new aluminum-dependent Ford-150 wind up even more expensive in North America? Arguably, yes.

Over the past decade the Chinese automotive sector has exploded. The country has installed a new cross-country highway system similar to the one the US installed in the 1950s. This system serves a population that is five times that of America. China is now the world’s biggest auto market as the world’s most populous country takes up the habit of driving.

As the boom in car adoption unfurls the demand for materials related to the auto sector has also risen. According to this report a “great upsurge in substitution of aluminum alloy automotive sheet for the traditional sheet materials like steel products has been gradually on the rise” in China.

In China, cars like the Audi A2/A8 and R8, Range Rovers, BMW Z8 and the Jaguar XJ/XK/XE are popular.

The country may still be communist in name, but the elites in the party, now fabulously wealthy, have developed a taste for high-end aluminum-heavy cars. The Tesla Model S, Ford F-150 and Honda NSX are also selling well.

In response international aluminum giants like Novelis, Kobe Steel, Constellium, Aleris, and ALCOA have expanded the production of aluminum alloy automotive sheet to meet the new demand. All these companies are involved in auto markers’ development of aluminum alloy car body. But China is consuming much more aluminum than it produces.

According to the report China is restricted in the production of aluminum by the high threshold in technological development necessary to produce the metal. That is, the country does not yet have the kind of sophisticated smelter sector that can produce this complex-to-make metal. Massive amounts of electricity and sophisticated metallurgical knowledge are required to produce aluminum. China is not yet producing the metal in any amount. As a result, China presents “a gap in production of aluminum alloy automotive sheet, especially that for car body.”

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